Following the implementation of Xinjiang’s first region-wide law banning behavior that authorities see as marks of religious extremism—including the refusal to consume state media, or wearing face veils or “abnormal” beards—an ethnic Uyghur village Party chief has reportedly been demoted for refusing to smoke in the presence of Muslim elders. The AP reports:
Jelil Matniyaz, the Communist Party head of a village in Hotan prefecture, was demoted for “not daring” to smoke in front of religious figures, said the report, issued on Saturday and reproduced by official newspapers and websites. Matniyaz, identified as a member of Xinjiang’s indigenous Uygur ethnic minority, was cited by the report as not having a “resolute political stance”.
[…] The punishment appears to be the latest extreme measure by the authorities to exert their will in Xinjiang, particularly its southern portion including Hotan, where Uygur culture is strongest. Chinese authorities and the state-controlled media have increasingly equated religious expression with extremism in their official rhetoric, partly in response to a bloody insurgency blamed on Uygur Islamic militants.
[…] Although smoking is not strictly forbidden in many parts of the Muslim world, it is sometimes discouraged by the more religiously observant. Ironically, Matniyaz’s punishment comes as health officials are seeking to curb a deeply ingrained smoking culture in China, where about half of all males regularly light up. [Source]
The Global Times’ coverage of the demotion quotes a Uyghur university professor and an anonymous official on the case:
According to local religion customs, smoking is not allowed in front of older people or among religious people, Turgunjun Tursun, a professor with the Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times on Monday.
However, some religious people force ordinary citizens also to comply with the requirements, a senior official who had been working in Xinjiang for years, told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.
In a sense, whether officials “dare to” smoke in front of religious people reflects their commitment to secularization, the anonymous official said.
The official’s demotion is an isolated case, Tursun said, adding that the local government should balance de-extremist behavior and local customs in the crackdown on extremism. [Source]
Xinjiang has been the frontline of a nationwide “people’s war on terror,” launched in 2014 in response to increasing incidents of violence in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. In addition to the new rules against “extremist behavior,” the campaign has recently included massive military rallies, a hardening of anti-terror rhetoric—including President Xi Jinping’s call for a “great wall of iron” around Xinjiang, and increased surveillance and GPS tracking measures. The South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan last week reported that 97 Xinjiang officials had been punished for inadequately monitoring local residents. Reuters’ Phillip Wen this week reported that a Uyghur official in Kashgar published a commentary in state media to fellow Uyghur cadres urging them to reveal “two-faced people” and “clean them out”:
In a commentary published by the official Xinjiang Daily on Monday, Yasin Sidik, a senior official from Kashgar city in Xinjiang, urged fellow ethnic Uighur cadres to “bravely stand at the forefront against separatism”.
“We must … remember to be grateful to the party,” Yasin said. “To forget history is tantamount to betrayal.”
“We must stand out and reveal ‘two-faced’ people, thoroughly seize bad elements out from the masses, clean them out,” he said.
Sidik’s was at least the fourth such warning from Uighur officials in the past two weeks. Another top Kashgar official warned last week that Uighur party cadres were not pulling their weight in the region’s fight against extremism. [Source]
Reuters had earlier covered another of the recent warnings from Uyghur officials.
Read more on the ongoing anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang, on criticism that related policies targeting the religious and cultural practices of Uyghurs serve to exacerbate the spread of extremism and underlying ethnic tensions, or on authorities’ continued denials of religious or ethnic persecution in the region, via CDT.